The Skinny

FUND FOR ALL: Several dozen members of the Metro Chamber of Commerce last week confronted three local GOP lawmakers--state Sen. Tim Bee and House members Marian McClure and Randy Graf--over the ongoing controversy surrounding the State Compensation Fund, an entity created by the state long ago to provides workmen's compensation insurance to many small businesses in Arizona.

Lawmakers and Gov. Janet Napolitano worked out a deal with the comp fund's board to plug a growing hole in this year's state budget by grabbing $50 million in cash in exchange for yet-to-be-named state assets. To balance next year's shortfall, state officials hope to grab anywhere from $100 million to $200 million from the fund, which has more than a billion dollars in reserve.

The raid on the fund has many small biz owners steamed, but at last week's meeting, they said they could live with it as long as it was the last bite at the apple. They want state lawmakers to pass a law protecting the fund from future dipping by state officials.

The fight has raised a legal question about the fund, which is managed by an independent board of directors and gets no state funding: Is it owned by the state or by the policy holders who has funded it?

Rep. Russell Pearce, the Mesa Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, insists the fund is under state control and has too much money.

"Is it overfunded?" Pearce asks. "Yes, I think so. And do I think it can contribute to the state's problems? Absolutely, because the state owns it and it's a state fund."

Pearce bases that assessment on the use of the word "state" in State Compensation Fund. Wonder if State Farm Insurance officials will be asked to buy some state assets as well?

Graf, who also contends the fund is under control of the state, says the swap of cash for state assets will benefit the fund. "They're not going to injured by it," he says.

The fight over the comp fund was triggered by a couple of bills, Senate Bill 1295 and House Bill 2464, which would have sold the fund outright to a private insurance company.

The big push to sell off the fund is coming from, naturally, a big insurance broker that wants the business: Cash, Sullivan & Cross, which has hired lobbyist Michael Bradley, a former Capitol staffer who has worked hard on the campaign of the right-wing nuts who are in the process of running the GOP into the ground.

Bill Cross of Cash, Sullivan & Cross recently wrote a stinging letter to state lawmakers urging them to sell off the fund and criticizing supporters of the fund of spreading lies about the impact of privatization.

"The State Fund continues to show their indifference to the Elected Officials," wrote Cross, demonstrating a curious affection for capital letters. "The fact of the mater (sic) is that the State Fund is overcapitalized and over reserved.

This money should be returned to the citizens of Arizona. -- We do not want a tax increase."

In other words, lawmakers ought to sell off the fund to show that they're not pussies who can be pushed around the small-biz advocates.

Cross is likely to be disappointed by lawmakers, who have killed both the sell-off bills this session.

BRINGING OUT THE DEAD: Buried under the fluff and exaggerated your-tax-dollars-at-work claims by the city and Pima County is some disturbing reality.

Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry told his charges and asked--very nicely--the county's long line of elected hacks to prepare a budget that's chopped by 5 percent.

The county is spending $1 billion this year--too many zeroes for most, including the zeroes on the Board of Supervisors, to comprehend.

But the 5 percent reduction in the Medical Examiner's office would mean, among other things, reduction of nearly $13,000 in salary and benefits for one of the morgue's four drivers.

"This could cause homicide scenes to be compromised, bodies would further decompose in outside environmental as well as bodies remaining on streets for longer periods of time, in homes and apartments awaiting pick-up by field agents," said Dr. Bruce Parks, the strictly matter-of-fact chief medical examiner.

"These delays would also cause a public safety hazard and further emotional trauma to loved ones, and the general public as well as tying up law enforcement."

Another cut, for more than $30,000, would chop a receptionist. While that might seem insignificant, just think of the delay when you want and need a timely death certificate or need the body or your loved one to be released to a mortuary for funeral preparation. The increasingly busy morgue is on a $1.86 million spending plan this year, two-thirds of which comes from general taxes.

SAVING KINO: University Physicians Inc. has mounted a white horse to manage the county's unmanaged Kino Community Hospital in a no-cost lease that could begin July 1. Why? UPI would get its hands on a $100 million facility and could expand its market greatly. It is encouraging that several UPI big shots worked Kino's emergency room and labs in the glory days of the late 1970s and early 1980s. That was before AHCCCS and, more dramatically, Kino's management, the Hospital Corp. of American, ravaged the southside hospital. HCA operated much like Paulie's crew when he agreed to "help" and become "partners" with that poor club owner in Goodfellas. Who knows what was run out of the back of Kino while the company decimated the place and its business so it could then be in a position to buy it at a fire sale?

It is easy to become nauseated listening to the parade of Kino advocates--the Linda Bohlkes of the world--and county and Kino employees who themselves don't use Kino.

But some of them have a point. UPI could indeed provide the key to saving Kino, but only if the negotiators for the county don't give it away. It's encouraging that those doing the county's talking are not the ones who gave away the farm to the Colorado Rockies in 1993 and the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox three years later. The D'backs, the Sox and the D'backs Triple A affiliate Sidewinders, of course, have the taxpayer-subsidized, gleaming spring training complex next door to Kino.

Kino needs management that can recruit doctors, not harass them. It needs a system that can hire docs and nurses as needed and that pays its doctors promptly, not six months late.

Most important, the deal must get the Board of Supervisors completely out. Kino should be spun off as a nonprofit with its own board.

BEHIND THE DOOR: Assistant City Attorney Merle Turchik may be giving lousy legal advice when she says that the minority wing of the City Council, Democrats Steve Leal, José Ibarra and Shirley Scott, did not skirt the Open Meeting Law by gathering in secret to devise an alternative to City Manager James Keene's budget.

It's hard to fault any effort to reverse the plan from Kommander Keene, who has proposed an increase in primary property taxes. But the three should have not done the work behind closed doors.

The state Attorney General opined that similar secret budget talks indeed violated the Open Meeting Law in 1990 when former City Manager Tom Wilson shut out the press by briefing council members in pairs to advance his lousy budget. The AG said then that talks on matters that could lead to final action or are the basis for final action must be open. A similar opinion was delivered when Republicans on the Board of Supervisors orchestrated the county management massacre in 1993.

NO COD: Our friend out at Old Tucson, Terry Pollock, sent this note after The Skinny screwed up the spelling of his name: "I thought we did keep CAP water out of people's homes -- and by the way, it's Pollock (like Jackson), not Pollack (like the fish). Keep up the good work!"

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